4D | “磨刀师” Installation

“磨刀师” 

Mdm Lee is one of the last knife sharpeners that’s left in Singapore. The purpose of this installation is to introduce one of the least known traditional manual labour profession that will soon be rendered obsolete in the face of modernity. When will we ever stop destroying what is ours? 

“The Knife Lady” film will be played on loop – https://vimeo.com/209626431
Video is available at the end of the post!

Re-creating Mdm Li’s workspace by showing a “moment” of how it looks like when she works. 

 


This was the film that I’ve done in Project 2 and was projected in loop during the installation.

That’s all folks! See you Foundation 4D and Robert 😉

4D | 磨刀师

磨刀师
The Knife Lady

A short film based on Mdm Lee, who is one of the last knife sharpeners that are left in Singapore. The purpose of this film is to introduce one of the least known traditional manual labour profession that will soon be rendered obsolete in the face of modernity. When will we ever stop destroying what is ours? 

This film is a continuation of my >22 series which talks about the traditional trades that are slowly vanishing. The knife sharpener wasn’t included in that publication as I forgot to put her inside… but here is a bigger scale and a video of her! But anyway, the reason why I chose her among all of the trades I found is that she’s the most interesting and least known among the modern society. Even I did not know that there is a profession that sharpens purely knives. Thus, I decided that it would be interesting for me to approach this new trade that I’ve never seen nor heard before and find out about its heritage, art and culture. 

After spending 3 days with her, there really is an art behind the knife sharpening. The skill and control she has while she free handedly buffers the knife, with sparks flying onto her apron with not a single flinch was made when it touches her leathery skin. She holds the knife with such grace and strength while she scraps in a certain angle across the rustic stone as she splatters water onto it for a smoother surface. What I was witnessing was 47 years of knife sharpening experience contained in that small shop of hers, tucked in a corner of People’s Park Centre.

4D | >22 Publication

Titled: > 22
Dimension: 148 x 210 mm
128 gsm matte paper and kraft paper.

“Times change, and people will have to adapt to the ever-changing world. Traditional trades that has been here even before I was born, will soon be rendered obsolete in the face of modernity.”


A total of 30 shops that are 22 years old and above are featured in this publication. The year that it was founded is located at the bottom right side of the page. The shops are arranged from the youngest, to the oldest – which dates back to 1937.

Kraft paper was used as the publication’s cover, brown yarn string was tied around it, so as to give out a nostalgic look, inspired from our local “tabao” look. It’s partnered with crisp white matte paper to give a contrast that – it’s old, but the tradition is well preserved. As the saying goes, old but gold. 


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Here are the shops and their founding years:

302 Fruit Stall, 1993
Choa Chu Kang Fruit and Beverages Trading, 1993
Ahmad Alay Barber, 1993
The Video Shop, 1993
Alywin Trading & Services, 1992
0119 Antique House, 1992
Sin Keck Siang Trading, 1992
Tokyo Costume Jewellery, 1989
New Ai Wah Watch Service, 1988
Kai Heng Trading, 1986
Chew’s Optics, 1986
Cobbler at “Cobbler Square”, 1985
榮顺興香荘, 1985
Queen Street Trading, 1984
Jie Bakery & Confectionery, 1984
Sin Chong Goldsmith, 1983
No signboard Provision Shop, 1983
Siyamala Book Store, 1979
Teck Whye Bird Shop, 1978
Teck Whye Aquarium, 1978
Peng Hin, 1971
Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry, 1970
Tiam Kee Trading, 1969
Teoh Huat Textiles, 1968
四马路 Flower Lady, 1967
Roxy Records & Trading, 1962
Lee Huat Motors Co., 1959
Fine Steps, 1958
Sing Hon Loong Bakery, 1957
Pin Pin Piau Kay & Co., 1938
Teo Chew Bookstore, 1937

4D | > 22

> 22

Times change, and people will have to adapt to the ever-changing world. Traditional trades that has been here even before I was born, will soon be rendered obsolete in the face of modernity.

In the ever-changing world, it’s amazing how some last, while some don’t, be it humans, animals, trades or artificial things. Some goes and try to adapt with time, while some are still frozen in the past. And thus, for this series, I would like to talk about the vanishing trades in Singapore, that are still here in the modern world, yet are slowly becoming obsolete in the face of modernity. 

Why the title “>22”?

I’ll be turning 22 years old, and I find it really interesting to be able to find shops that are older than me and has been here even way before I’ve entered this world. How was the world like before? This has always been floating in the back of my mind. Because now, our generation is all about the technology, the new gadgets and all, and we, are slowly but quickly forgetting our roots. How often can you find a young person who knows how to speak their dialect? Or even better, their own mother tongue. Well, this is directing to myself, as I’m neither fluent in mother tongue nor my dialect. Not just trades are dying, our culture and traditions are also slowly disappearing into thin air as our world evolves.

Sooner or later, our traditions will be long gone. I’m sure maybe 20 years from now, all of the old traditional stores will be replaced by hipster cafes and all. Isn’t this saddening? How the REAL Singapore is vanishing and are all replaced by goods that doesn’t have… our heritage. 

This series, is to let everyone know and understand, the importance of our roots and our traditions. How we should stop getting rid of all the old heritage stuff which isn’t deemed as “cool” anymore. How we don’t easily see street vendors, cobblers, knife sharperners, traditional bakeries and textile shops etc etc as often. We should keep all of our old trades, to keep the tradition going, our identity, as I’m sure we will all regret when everything is gone, not a single speck is left. 

And do you know, they are actually demolishing the famous iconic Rocher Estate? Look at how our modern times, are slowly over taking our own heritage, just to make way for more mundane and “stylish” buildings.